Bias in the bias

April 5, 2007

Thanks to Barista (who in turn thanks Crooked Timber) I have been reading up on the extraordinary right-wing, creationist view of the world as presented by the very biased Wikipedia-hating Conservapedia

Perhaps the most disturbing article is the list of examples of bias in Wikipedia. As well as the rap over the knuckles for the use of BCE and CE instead of the apparently correct BC and AD, or that the Wikipedia entry on the “Great Flood” describes it as a myth despite the fact that 60% of Americans accept the version in the Bible, is this gem – “Wikipedia often uses foreign spelling of words, even though most English-speaking users are American.”

Can you imagine that, a website that uses non-American spelling? Now there is bias for you. Obviously an encyclopedia which doesn’t see the world from a US point of view it is not a source you can trust.

It’s a view of the world that is reflected in a reference book I sometimes consult called The World Almanac and Book of Facts. It is a fantastic source of information on the economy of every US State, it lists the baseball rookies of the year, informs me on the prison population in each US city, and is a great guide to the tuition fees of every American College. It somewhat grudgingly devotes about 100 of its 1000 pages to non-US data. Clearly the editors of this almanac have the same understanding of the word “world” as those who describe the US domestic baseball competition as the “World Series”.

Having just spent a couple of weeks there, I can understand that a large, wealthy and powerful country like the USA does not need to concern itself with the rest of the world. I only wish that it was honest about its narrow focus and not make out that the US view is the World view.

By the way, the few dozen lines my almanac devotes to Australia includes such useful information as the address of the embassy in Washington and lists all distances in miles (whatever they are!)


2 Responses to “Bias in the bias”

  1. Nice post–but while your World Almanac page counting is more or less in the right ballpark, I take issue with the word “grudgingly.” In truth, I (and the other editors of the World Almanac) would love to pack more non-US-centric facts and statistics into the book, but it’s never quite that simple.
    We have a limited number of pages at our disposal (1008, to be precise), and a large amount of data that regular purchasers expect to find in each edition. When we add a new data set, we have to cut something to make room for it–and I guarantee that no matter how seemingly minor the cut, it will be missed by someone. I have the letters to prove it!
    Also, although we have many overseas readers (and we’re happy to have you!), the vast majority of the people and institutions that buy The World Almanac each year are in the U.S., and most of the requests and suggestions we receive are for US-centric data.
    There are other obstacles to adding more “global” data to the Almanac, including the fact that many countries simply don’t have the kind of massive, intensive (and well-funded) data-gathering and number-crunching organizations that exist to analyze every aspect of life in the United States.
    Still, we’re always looking to develop relationships with international institutions that can provide authoritative, reliable, up-to-date data on the world. And if you have specific requests or suggestions, you should definitely send them to us.
    Also, one last note: although we do want to provide as much information about “the world” as possible, “The World” in our name actually refers to the long-defunct “New York World” newspaper, the publisher of the very first World Almanac in 1868.

  2. cyberslacker Says:

    Okay. I’ll accept the criticism of the word ‘grudgingly’. That paragraph is in fact lifted from a letter I wrote to the newspaper some years ago objecting to the then proposed Australia/US free trade agreement. It was a letter written in anger and perhaps the language reflects that.
    Nevertheless, I still think that the book in question should be called ‘The American Almanac’. Save the word ‘World’ for a publication that is what is says.
    On the other hand, I am really delighted to have had this post from C Alan Joyce. Why else would one write a blog if not to be able to conduct these sorts of dialogues?

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